January 29, 1845: Edgar Allan Poe’s ”The Raven” is published.
Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem was published toward the end of his life - he died in 1849 of mysterious causes after suffering for years in poverty and alcoholism, particularly after the death of his wife, Virginia. As Poe was writing “The Raven”, Virginia was dying of tuberculosis, which lent a personal touch to the poem’s subject matter (and also to that of some of Poe’s other poems). The titular raven, Poe wrote, was a symbol of “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. The poem itself is full of allusions, from the “bust of Pallas” to “Night’s Plutonian shore” to Seraphim and the balm of Gilead.
“The Raven” was first published in the Evening Mirror, and then in February of 1845 in The American Review under the name “Quarles”. It was an immediate hit among both critics and casual readers, although one notable non-fan of the poem was Ralph Waldo Emerson, an important figure in the Transcendentalist movement of American literature - a movement Poe deeply disliked. Of “The Raven”, Emerson commented ”I see nothing in it”. The poem also turned Poe into a well-known and well-respected author, but unfortunately, he remained destitute for the rest of his life; of this sad set of circumstances he wrote (in a letter to Frederick W. Thomas) in May of 1845:
I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life – except in hope, which is by no means bankable.
Illustrations by Gustave Doré.